by Hersh Rosner
“You’re no good; you’ll never be any good.”
It would be years before I could shake my father’s nasty words. If not for my wife Linda I would still be trying to shake this ugly message. If not for Linda, I may not even be here today.
When I was a kid, we lived in a flat downtown across from the Art Gallery of Ontario. When someone was murdered in the laneway behind our apartment, my parents felt it was time to move to a safer neighborhood. Money, the God All Mighty Dollar, or lack of it was the bane of their existence. They have never gotten over the shame of having to file for bankruptcy. They felt defeated in this world, and my mother, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, spent much of her time in bed. I craved to be free of my parent’s shame and their negative self- image. I wanted to become my own person and I tried to make people like me. The harder I tried to be accepted, the harder it became.
When I didn’t receive the attention I so desperately needed, this little guy with freckles and lots of energy became a prankster. Things came to a head when I was five years old when I was the principal witness in a court case my parents brought against the caretaker of our building. He was always telling the children to play quietly and not to slam doors. I told my parents that he had slapped me in the face for running noisily in the halls. My parents were hoping to win in court and receive a settlement. My father coached me about the evidence I was to give in court. We went over my story. We rehearsed the lie.
I came close to peeing my pants when the court clerk ominously called my name. As I climbed the steps to the witness box I saw the judge, his black flowing robe swooping down towards me like an eagle. He demanded to know if I had been coached. He wanted the truth and nothing but the truth.
My chest was thumping, drenched in sweat I wavered from the rehearsed script and I told the truth; that I merely ran into the caretaker’s hand as he held it up as a signal for me to stop me from running in the halls. No assault and battery, just an accident. The judge insisted on the truth, I told the truth. My parents were humiliated, I was punished, and our home became dark and silent; no one spoke to each other for weeks. This pattern of silence prevailed throughout my childhood.
School was also a struggle, a hard and rocky road. They didn’t diagnose kids with learning and social problems back then; ADD or ADHD was yet to be. They just told parents their child was lazy. When I had to repeat grade eight, I felt totally rejected and a miserable failure. I ended up quitting school in grade eleven. After a series of odd jobs I went to community college where I met Linda, the love of my life and married her when I was 21. After two years of marriage I was hit with my first major depression which we kept secret from our families. I spent a year in bed while Linda searched for answers. During this period I was hospitalized and seriously traumatized due to the inhumane treatment I received on the psych ward. They tried an assortment of medications that didn’t work very well and could kill you if you ate cheese or drank red wine. I was prescribed Lithium when Linda’s research found that it was effective for people experiencing extreme mood swings. It would be my medication for the next 40 years.
Once stabilized, and with Linda’s support and encouragement, I slowly started to gain confidence. I was accepted into teacher’s college and graduated with only one bout of manic behaviour during that time. However teaching proved to be very difficult. My oscillating moods seriously interfered with my work so I switched careers and went into real estate. As a realtor it was easier to hide my mood swings; I could change appointments or let them know I wasn’t coming in when I needed to stay home. My highs would be seen as great enthusiasm for the work, my lows as concentrating don’t bother me times.
After 20 years of selling commercial real estate I was debt free. When the market plunged Linda persuaded me to return to my true passion, teaching. I took some refresher courses, started off supply teaching, and within a short time landed a position as a Special Education Resource Teacher. It was great. The kids were great. I was more focused and truly empathized with my students. I was a damn good special education teacher.
Unfortunately my history of disrespectful behaviours, bouts of infidelity, and ongoing extravagant spending sprees were pushing Linda’s patience to the limit. At work I was expected to abide by policies and guidelines that involved documenting every little thing I did which was stressful. I thought the administration was out to get me and I couldn’t put a leash on some inappropriate behaviours. One day, showing empathy with a female colleague, I gave her a little innocent kiss on the head. The consequences were horrendous. It got me in deep doo doo with Linda and I was transferred to another school. I had no support from my colleagues, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, and was falling asleep at the wheel. I was a delusional zombie when I was admitted back into hospital where it was discovered that my kidneys were poisoned from years on lithium and a toxic reaction with another medication. I almost died.
Linda stayed by my side at the hospital for two nights until I spoke to her harshly and she left. The nurses called her to come back at three in the morning. I was agitated and out of control while they were trying to put tubes in my hands and forcing liquids into my body. They put me in a straight-jacket on a chair. When I wasn’t allowed to go to the washroom I urinated on the chair and had a catheter installed. Linda was horrified and insisted on taking me home where thankfully the paranoia eventually settled down.
The details from that tumultuous time are fuzzy but I do know that Linda was hurt when I credited the nurses for their help. The crisis was nearly the end of my family and me. I knew it was the last straw for Linda when she berated me with tsunami force anger. ”Just who in the hell are you? You, with your constant mood changes, your need to control. And you don’t even realize that your stumbling, bumbling ways are preventing you from being in control. You threaten me; you’re rude and cruel to me. And yet you expect uncompromising love in return, as if you were a baby.”
I don’t want to lose Linda and I don’t want to go into the hospital again. I haven’t always been the loving caring husband that she deserves. I want to be the man she thought she married 40 years ago so I am doing my best to stay healthy and balanced. I try to get the proper amount of sleep, and I get up each day and dress to go out, even if there is nowhere to go. I am practicing a regime of showing espect, being patient with others and myself. I try to listen to others, think before I act and drive within the speed limit. Practicing mindfulness and daily meditation are also very important in my recovery.
I am now choosing friends who are role models of health and balance, as opposed to needy people who suck energy out of me. I am on the right medication that is closely monitored and thanks to Linda’s persistence I am getting the professional support that I need. I am also gaining new insights on my own. Recovery is now my reality.
I am forever grateful to Linda and don’t take our undying love for each other for granted.
I am thankful for my teacher Elly Litvak, my fellow group members and to those who have listened to me. You have helped to unlock my inner strength. I am proud to say that the little prankster with freckles who was told that he’d never be any good is now an aspiring Mensch.